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Monday, July 09, 2012

Converts vs Disciples

By Dan

Something caught my eye in Scripture today. It was in the book of John, third chapter, verse 22:
"After these things Jesus and His disciples came into the land of Judea, and there He was spending time with them and baptizing"
Of interest to me were the words "He was spending time with them". This resonated with a thing that I've been pondering of late concerning "convert" vs. "disciple". So I did a little word search on these two words in the NASV. "Convert" showed one reference in the OT and eight in the NT, four of which were in "headings".

I then searched the word "disciple". There were two references in the old OT and 266 in the NT. Of course disciple was used to describe the 12 and so we would expect a difference. But I think there's more to this than meets the eye at a glance.

For one, nowhere in Scripture are we commanded to make converts. The word is used generally as a verb or a noun derived from the verb. It always refers to a thing that happened in a point in time, but never as an identity.

Disciple, on the other hand, is an identity. I am a disciple, not a convert. I was converted some years ago. After my conversion someone much older than myself "spent time with" me. He was compassionate, kind, humble, gentle and patient (Col 3:12). I was his disciple.

At some point in the history of the Church the idea of becoming a disciple, or making disciples, I fear, was lost to a game of numbers. Success became dependent on the number of converts and warm pews which has, and had, no relevance to discipleship. How arrogant it is, in my opinion, to conclude that the sermons in our Churches are so good that sitting under them once a week will have life changing effects.

The truth is that discipling is hard work. It requires time. It requires men of God who are chewing on solid food themselves. It is expensive. No wonder we quit doing it, and in so doing quit requiring it, and in so doing began to die.

But making disciples is worth the effort. In his letter to the Philippians, Paul, after painting for us the picture of his struggles, "to live or to die", goes on to make his case for living. In the column entitled "live on" he put "fruitful labor" (1:22).

Also, in his letter to the Thessalonians, after reminding them that they (Paul and his company) had given them, "not only the gospel of God but also [their] own lives" (2:8), and after he had left them for a while, and upon inquiring again as to how they were holding up in the faith under suffering and persecution, and then after receiving a favorable word, he proclaimed his joy ... in them.
"For what thanks can we render to God for you in return for all the joy with which we rejoice before our God on your account..."(3:9)
No Church leader is sad when he sees those who belong to his Church growing in the faith. But we receive joy beyond thanksgiving when we receive a good return on our expensive and substantial spiritual investments into the disciples placed under our care when they flourish in the faith. How drab it is, the comparison of converts to disciples. Obedience demands discipleship.


Malcolm Foley said...

Beautifully and sadly true. Too few are willing to put in the time and effort to build disciples of Christ, probably because they are unaware of the immense power and joy that is the inevitable result of such an effort.

Stan said...

Once, when I suggested that we ought to be making disciples rather than converts, the pastor told me, "That's just too much work."